Thursday, May 27, 2010

No pretty pictures or trying to be insightful today. Just a link to Google street view - showing a highway. Which goes into a building.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Monday, May 3, 2010

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Wedding dresses are white - to match the kitchen appliances.

Japan is an Asian country which you could almost mistake for a western one. You walk down the street and you will find a KFC or McDonalds, you see posters advertising Hollywood movies all around the place, and things everywhere are plastered with Disney characters or look-alikes. But despite the appearance that western business has dragged Japan in line with western culture, things start to nag at you after a while. You realize that something is different, but its hard to put a finger on exactly what.

One of the first things that I noticed was the fact that since I've been staying at this guesthouse, even though the people here are all guests, it is mostly the girls that volunteer to do the cooking. They even volunteer to do the dishes. And when one day I volunteered to help out one of the girls doing the dishes because she'd gotten the job of doing them 3 days in a row, everybody thought it was the best thing ever. It was almost like a guy had never done the dishes before, or at least never helped out. It may well be that its not that big a deal - guys in Australia can be lazy as well, but its hard to put words to the attitude here. It seemed, at least at first, like Japanese people agree that women are better in the Kitchen than men are.

It so happened one day that we actually got to test this out, albeit completely on accident. I'm not exactly sure on how it happened, but we ended up having a bunch of guys and girls sitting around the kotatsu (which is becoming a theme), eating a meal made by the guys. The guy who cooked the meal mentioned how he was sorry it was inadequate, at which point I decided to try and make a bad joke, and said that it was because he wasn't a girl. At which point the girls all nodded their head in agreement, completely seriously. Its almost like feminism got girls into the workplace here, then decided it had done its job for the day and went home.

I've heard before that Japan is one of the most chauvinist cultures in the world, especially amongst the developed countries. But I wonder if its not so much that Japan is chauvinist, but more that western people take themselves way too seriously. Sure, women here probably don't get treated quite as equally as those in western countries - guys don't do the whole chivalry thing, and guys aren't expected to know how to cook either. But the thing is, guys don't get treated equally to girls either. Joking that a guy's food isn't as good as a girls is a joke at his expense, not at all the girls in the room. I guess the key is that girls and guys are not equal - they're different. And even if girls don't get it as good here, they still complain less than their counterparts in Australia.

My guess is that the reason for the cultural difference comes down to the inability to understand English - and the corresponding inability of Japanese people to understand the western media blitzkreig. If you can't here what American companies think you really "deserve", you don't think you deserve it. Of course, the Japanese media has its own set of unfortunate priorities, but they don't consist of telling women they should be men, and they also don't tell kids they should be openly abusive to their elders. In the end, the major cultural import seems to be the idea that every girl is a princess. And even then, that import seems pretty much limited to the girls.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Usually when I write a blog entry, I try to find one topic to write about, and to talk about it in such a way that if my English teacher were dead, she would not be turning in her grave. Lately I'm finding it much harder to do so, either because the number of topics I want to write about is increasing, or because my lack of spoken English has finally started eating away at the part of my brain which makes things legible. Either way, I'm sorry in advance, but this entry is going to be a haphazard collection of rather disconnected happenings which are not intellectual in the slightest, and probably completely uninteresting to anybody who isn't actually interested in me. So yeah, sorry.

First of all, I've finally actually started to make some friends in Japan, because I've stayed at this guesthouse long enough to consider the other people that are staying here friends. I guess they're your average Japanese people - they go to work, come home from work, eat food, and then go to work again the next day after sleeping. Most of my time with them involves the "eat food" part of their lives, which means pretty much every day I get to eat good, home-cooked Japanese food if I want. Food is about the only thing that the friendship involves though - my lack of Japanese and their lack of free time really makes it hard to get to know them well. About the most interesting thing I could tell you about them is that they don't seem too worried about not really knowing anyone outside of home and work.

I was kind of lying when I implied those were the only friends I had though - I've also get friends at church. I see them once a week and pretend to understand whats going on, much like at an Australian church. And I also met some complete randoms who I decided to hang out with the next day. These randoms aren't exactly you're average Japanese though - one of them makes money (or tries to) by selling chai tea at cherry blossom viewing parties, and the other drives literally the biggest car I have ever seen in Japan while carrying around a poodle dressed in kids clothes. The first day I met them, I told them that I was looking for a job in Japan. The girl who drives the big car said "is working in a cafe alright? with a low wage?" - I said yes, and she promptly called her friend who owns a cafe. She didn't talk to him though, she handed me the phone, and I struggled to try and ask "do you have any work" in Japanese. I failed miserably and I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be working at that cafe any time soon, but it was a good start for my probably-doomed-to-fail job search.

Following the theme of not really having a theme, I bought some awesome-looking muesli from an import shop the other day. It is strange that you can only buy Japanese-made muesli in imported food shops, but that is going on a tangent. I really splashed out on this muesli, so I was really, really looking forward to eating it. So as you can imagine, I was sorely disappointed when it tasted like something my dad cooked when I was a lot younger (he can cook now). So disappointed in fact, that I started writing this:

"As well as price and serving size, completely forget what you know about how food tastes, especially if you actually think you know what it might taste like... Knowing this didn't stop me from getting excited at the prospect of eating this expensive muesli I bought from an import shop, at least until I took one spoonful and found that it was like eating raw sugar for breakfast."

However, the following day, I found out that just because something is in a milk carton, made by a brand which makes milk products, has a similar pattern on the carton to the rest of the milk cartons, and even looks like milk when you open it, doesn't mean its milk. Japanese people love this thing called "drinkable yoghurt", and were incredibly surprised when I told them I'd never heard of it before. The muesli was actually the first western-looking food I've tasted which tastes better than the equivalent food in Australia. I guess it just means they didn't copy it from America.

Friends and cereal aside, its easy to get a bit depressed about how I still can't hold a conversation any better now than I could almost 2 months ago. Not being able to work at a school where I'd actually be able to learn the culture and make more Japanese friends sucks as well, and so does the fact that pretty much all the remaining jobs involve working in a suit as somebody who feeds off Japanese insecurities about English (and not even being able to make any Japanese friends in the process). But when you're riding a bike through a foreign city at at night, swerving to avoid myriad suits as you desperately try to keep up with the people you are following who you barely even know, you can forget all the crap and just be happy that the place is at least occasionally as magical as you dreamed it might be.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Last night I had a dream about shopping for weatbix, and was sorely disappointed when I woke up and realized I'm probably not going to be able to eat those weatbix for another year. But realizing just how important something like weatbix is prompted me to go through a list of things in my head which I do and don't miss about Australia. I really miss hanging out on Friday and Saturday nights with my friends and playing games of risk and Starcraft. I also miss being able to go somewhere where there isn't anyone else and just being alone. And while being able to communicate with people in everyday life was awesome in Australia, talking to people about anything other than the fact I'm an Australian on a working holiday visa wasn't at the top of the list. It was on the list for sure, but its a bit more complicated an item than the others.

The way I spend time with people here is different to Australia. In Japan, most of the time I spend with people is just sitting around a table eating or laughing. I don't necessarily understand what I'm laughing about, but just because I don't understand it doesn't make it any less enjoyable. Sometimes I have the odd short conversation about the guy dressed as a girl who just walked into one of two gay clubs next door, or sometimes I'll have some fun telling people that we usually eat with a knife and fork in Australia (usually followed by shocked looks), but I barely ever talk about the kinds of things I would have talked about back home. I just don't know how to talk about electronics here, or religion, or current events. And when people talk about those sorts of things, I don't understand them. At all.

The huge difference between my friends in Australia and my friends here is that in Australia, the people I hung out with were mostly people I could share opinions with. But in Japan, I don't know enough about the Japanese language to tell people that I think spending money at the temple to buy a blessing is a scam. And since I don't even know the word for government, good luck trying to tell me that the current government is horrible. Apart from the fact that I don't really know enough people to choose my friends anyway, it means that the people I hang out with in Japan aren't all people who I can talk about things with. It means that when I'm with people, I spend a lot less time arguing, and a lot more time just sitting there and trying to enjoy whatever they are enjoying. But the fact is that I thrive on discussing opinions with people, and not everyone enjoys Shisha.

I do wonder if being able to listen to my Japanese friends talk about their interests would allow me to enjoy what they're doing more, and because of it I'm studying my ass off to learn the language. But at the same time, I wonder just what exactly the language that I'm learning will buy me in terms of friendships. If all it allows me to do is understand that just like in Australia, everybody is talking about their favorite sports team or stupid politics, is it really going to add that much more to friendships than just quietly sitting there? And if I was actually able to find people to play starcraft or boardgames with here, would not understanding them really make them any worse friends than my mates in Australia? Sure, the language would make it easier to find those people, but only just.

I know in Australia my best friends were the ones I could talk about things with, like God or my crazy ideas about the world. But I also really enjoyed just hanging out with mates as well. Wikipedia says that some researchers put the level of body language compared to that of spoken language as high as 80%, and I guess this just means even more that being able to enjoy doing stuff together with the people you hang around with is more important than understanding what they are saying. Really, I just wish the people here enjoyed playing boardgames.